Love thy neighbour… and thy neighbour’s garden.

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A couple of weeks ago I visited a few open gardens as part of the Auckland Garden Design Festival. All were inspiring but the last two were especially so and not just for visual reasons. The owners of these neighbouring gardens were able to work together to utilise their joint resources and create the backyards of their dreams.

As with many blocks in Auckland these two rest on the side of a hill. The upper needed to get rid of soil and the lower needed to add some. It can be an expensive process moving soil in and out but these two avoided that by moving soil from the upper garden to the lower and sharing the cost between them. They also used the same landscape designer and, considering their good relationship, left a little pathway through some of the larger plantings so they can pop next door whenever they like.

When so many neighbours don’t speak or get along, it was lovely to see two that were able to create spaces more beautiful than if they’d worked alone. They managed to keep their own individual style but create a harmonious environment that reflected their good relationship. It was by far the most inspiring thing I saw that day and that’s really saying something.

Create a Healing Garden in Seven Steps.

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The third garden on my walking tour featured plantings that held productive and medicinal qualities. This beautiful parterre garden became even more appealing when I discovered plants like coriander, mint, thyme, rosemary, lavender and artichokes arranged with the love and care usually reserved for roses and other purely ornamental plants.

People have long planted medicinal gardens full of herbs and other health giving plants but there is some research to indicate the medicinal benefits of a garden don’t just stop there.

A 1984 study by environmental psychologist Roger Ulrich was able to show that gazing at a garden can sometimes speed healing from surgery, infections and other conditions. His team, who monitored patients recovering from surgery, noticed that those with bedside windows looking out on to leafy trees healed on average a day faster and needed less medication than those who did not.

Clare Cooper Marcus, Professor Emerita, Departments of Architecture and Landscape Architecture also says there’s good evidence a well-designed garden can reduce your levels of pain and stress. By doing that, it can help boost your immune system in ways that allow your body and other treatments to heal you. She recommends a ratio of at least 7:3 of greenery to hard surfaces to be the most effective.

According to Cooper Marcus, aside from the many herbs and vegetables available for planting, the healing powers of a garden can be intensified by keeping the following things in mind.

1. Keep it green. Lush, layered landscapes with trees, flowers and shrubs of varying heights should take up to about 70% of the space with walkways and other static areas about 30%.
2. Keep it real. Abstract sculptures do not soothe people who are sick or worried.
(I’m not sure if I completely agree with this one. The artwork and sculpture I saw seemed to enhance a garden’s relaxing qualities.)
3. Keep it interesting. Mature trees that draw birds and chairs that can be moved to facilitate private conversation promote greater interaction.
4. Engage multiple senses. Gardens that can be seen, touched, smelled and listened to soothe best. Though strongly fragrant plants should be avoided.
5. Mind the walkways. Wide, meandering paths that are tinted to reduce glare allow people with low eyesight to enjoy the experience more. Also, watch paving to avoid anything that might trip someone.
6. Water with care. While the sound of water can be relaxing, fountains that bear more resemblance to a dripping tap or urinal are not. Nor is the strong smell of algae.
7. Make entry easy. Gardens should not be too far away or behind heavy doors. While the sense of discovery can be a nice one you don’t want to have to work too hard to enjoy your garden.

For my part, anything that can help reduce stress has to be a good thing. I finished my walk feeling both energized and relaxed. Unusual to feel both at the same time.

For further reading on the studies mentioned please see scientificamerican.com.

Nature can Nurture

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On my Saturday morning walk, I took the opportunity to view some open gardens as part of the Auckland Garden Design Festival. The beautiful spaces inspired a feeling of peace and calm that grew with each one I saw. It made me wonder if there was any research about the de-stressing effect of gardens and other possible health benefits. Turns out there is.

An article from scientificamerican.com states, “Just three to five minutes spent looking at views dominated by trees, flowers or water can begin to reduce anger, anxiety and pain and to induce relaxation, according to various studies of healthy people that measured physiological changes in blood pressure, muscle tension, or heart and brain electrical activity…. Throughout human history, trees and water have signalled an oasis, and flowering plants have been a sign of possible food. Open views deter surprises by predators, and shaded alcoves offer a safe retreat….. Indeed, the benefits of seeing and being in nature are so powerful that even pictures of landscapes can soothe. “

Sounds more like common sense to me but, I’m glad scientists agree that looking at living things helps us feel more alive.

Click the link if you’d like to see more pics and details on this lovely garden. http://www.gardendesignfest.co.nz/garden23.html

The Kiwi Christmas tree is up

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Pohutukawa no silver

On my Thursday morning walk along the waterfront, I spotted one of the first Pohutukawa trees to flower.

This Kiwi “Christmas tree” is loved for its crimson flower that only appears during the summer months. For me, the first flowers mark the beginning of the festive season and as I have about 3 parties in the next week it seems mother nature is right on time.

Spring, in the land of the long white cloud.

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Spring, in the land of the long white cloud.

There was a smidge of blue sky peeking from behind the clouds so, Alex and I headed to my favourite North Shore Beach, Castor Bay. Though we weren’t as brave as these kids who were in the water, boogie boards and all, we had a great time sitting on our towels, listening to the waves. Kids really don’t care when it comes to getting in the water do they? Rain, hail, shine or even slightly cloudy it seems. ☺

Under the Bridge

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Under Bridge Artwork

Walking around the waterfront the other day, I took a slightly different route and discovered this huge photo where the harbour bridge meets the shore. There’s no plaque explaining what the people are up to but it seems they’re building the bridge’s first platform. As soon as I saw it I started thinking about what I was walking on and appreciating the effort previous generations had gone to. I so rarely think about how hard those who’ve come before us have worked to give us the life we now enjoy. I also appreciate that someone thought to put the picture there to remind us. It’s so nice when you see that care has been taken when it’s not really necessary. The council could have left the base of the bridge exposed but instead have chosen to remind us of those who built the structure we’re now getting the benefit of. Just a couple of the many things to think about when you’re out for a walk in Auckland.